Oh, and while I’m at it, I’m not that fond of calf raises, either.
I especially dislike them for people whose primary goal is to lose fat or who otherwise don’t have a specific reason to isolate those muscle groups.
Why? They give too little bang for the buck.
But before I continue, I have to admit that writing blog posts like this makes my stomach flip-flop. I worry at least a couple of my clients will think I’m picking on them or singling them out, and that’s not my intention. Not at all.
That being said, I’m getting a lot of questions about inner thigh and calf workout/exercises lately.
It’s almost shorts/bathing suit season and people are worried about the state of their inner thighs — they think they are jiggly or out of shape.
Plus, they are not loving their calves — they complain they are skinny or non-existent (aka “cankles,” in which the ankle and calf morph together to form a continuous unit). They think that’s a bad look when they’re wearing shorts/sundress and cute sandals.
I get it. I really do.
And I’m here to help.
The recipe for tight thighs and curvy calves
I know how you are (cuz I’m the same way): You want results and you want them now.
The bad news is that the inner-thigh and calf raise machines at the gym won’t get you the results you want.
The good news is that training like an athlete will. Bonus: training like an athlete will firm your entire body, rev up your metabolism, build muscle, burn fat, give you energy and generally make you feel stronger/fitter all over.
Here’s the plan:
1. Get your nutrition in relative order. Fat loss is critical when it comes to sculpting muscles — you will be sculpting away the “fluff.”
Eat a balanced, nutrient-dense diet, watching that you don’t eat too much. Tip: overeating is hard to do when you’re nutrient-dense foods.
2. Target your training to help boost your burn.
Work big, compound movements like squats, lunges, step ups, etc. Want to really target the inner thighs? During your squats, stand wide and slightly angle your toes out, making sure your knees track out over your toes.
3. Add some plyometrics — explosive speed skaters, jump lunges, jump squats, etc. Your thighs and calves will hate you for a short while, but you will love the results.
4. Sprint. Attack some hills. Again: the thighs and calves might not love it at first, but you will reap great rewards. Also, sprinting can be a fantastic core workout, another hidden bonus.
Then, 5. Sit and squeeze
Once you’ve covered the above bases and trained your body athletically, it’s time to get fancy with the isolation exercises to touch up any lagging spots.
But first, before you start, here’s a basic anatomy lesson. The adductor muscles — the muscles of your inner thigh — serve one main purpose, which is to move the leg back toward the midline of your body. That’s not a movement it’s called to do on a regular basis or with much relative strength, so they aren’t designed for heavy use. (Before the anatomy/trainer police come for me, it’s true: the adductors also pitch in to help with some other movements and on stabilization, but that’s just a small part of their job.)
Working the adductors too much can actually cause a muscle imbalance, especially if they become stronger than/out of balance with their opposing muscles — the abductors (the outer thigh). The abductors are responsible for moving your leg away from center line. In addition to being considered part of the complex of muscles that comprise the glutes, abductor strength is also important for knee and low-back health.
So if you want to sit at the adductor machine at the gym and squeeze your thighs together, or strap a band/cable around your ankle and sweep your legs in and out, go for it — just make sure you’re also working the opposite direction. Bonus to working the abductors: a better booty.
And calf raises? If you choose to do them (I never do, cuz I detest calf soreness and I get plenty of calf work doing plyos and taking/teaching/etc. group ex classes and sprinting), make sure you do both the seated and straight-leg versions because those work different calf muscles, and you want to target both.
Straight-leg calf raises target the gastrocnemius muscles, which are the “meatier” outside calf muscles, while seated calf raises attack the soleus muscles, which are under the gastrocnemius.
For both calf and thigh isolation exercises, choose a weight you can do with 15-20 repetitions — go for higher repetitions because you’re dealing with smaller muscle groups that are built for endurance.
Cheat sheet for fast results
For tight thighs and curvy calves, here’s your how-to list, in order of importance:
1. Tight diet
2. Compound exercises like squats, lunges, stepups, side lunges
5. Isolation work.
Do you have a trouble spot or question about training? Let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to help out.